Another Open; New Special

By Jim Ellis

Sept. 6, 2017 — US House action occurred during the three-day holiday weekend both on the Democratic and Republican sides of the aisle. A new open Democratic House seat was announced because the incumbent has decided to run for governor of her state, and President Trump chose a GOP House member to become the new NASA administrator meaning seeing yet another special election is distinctly possible.

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Last month, stories surfaced that Hawaii Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Honolulu) was seriously considering challenging Gov. David Ige in next year’s Democratic primary. Over the weekend, she made public her intentions to again run statewide.

Rep. Hanabusa was originally elected to the House in 2010. She served two terms and then ran unsuccessfully for the Senate, attempting to deny appointed Sen. Brian Schatz the Democratic nomination. Then-Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) appointed then-Lt. Gov. Schatz to the Senate seat left vacant when long-serving incumbent Daniel Inouye (D) passed away in 2012. Hanabusa claimed the late senator wanted her as his successor, prompting her to run. In the succeeding primary, Sen. Schatz secured his victory by slightly more than one percentage point, a margin of 1,782 votes from just under 234,000 ballots cast.

In the same primary, Ige, a 30-year veteran Hawaii state legislator, challenged and easily defeated Gov. Abercrombie by an extraordinary 67-31 percent margin. Now, Gov. Ige must face his own serious re-nomination battle.

Hanabusa returned to the House in 2016 after her successor, Rep. Mark Takai (D-Aiea), tragically passed away from pancreatic cancer. Now, less than a year into her new term the congresswoman will be again risking her House seat to launch a primary challenge for a statewide office.

In 2014, when the 1st District congressional seat was last open in a regular election cycle, seven Democratic candidates, including several local and state elected officials, competed for the party nomination. Takai, a veteran state legislator, won the primary with 44 percent of the vote, and then defeated former GOP Rep. Charles Djou (R-Honolulu) with 52 percent. It is likely we will see a similar-sized field of candidates participate in next year’s open seat Democratic primary.

Republicans could be competitive here, as was evidenced when Djou won a jungle special election here in early 2010, but that result came largely from several Democratic candidates splitting the party vote. It is highly likely that the Democrats will again retain the seat in the 2018 open election.

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Also during the weekend, President Trump announced that he will nominate Oklahoma Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Tulsa) to become the new NASA administrator, a move that had been expected.

Bridenstine was first elected in 2012, defeating then-Rep. John Sullivan (R-Tulsa), 54-46 percent, in the Republican primary. During that campaign, Bridenstine pledged to serve only three terms. Keeping his promise, the congressman had already announced he would not seek re-election in 2018.

If Rep. Bridenstine is confirmed to his new position early enough in the cycle, we will again see a special election called. Since the appointment approval pace has been so slow in this administration and Congress, it is possible the process will not be complete before the regular primary gets underway. Therefore, the seat could be filled within the regular cycle that includes a concurrent special election.

Because Rep. Bridenstine had already announced he would not seek re-election, a multi-candidate Republican primary is already underway.

At this point, businessman Kevin Hern has the most campaign resources at his disposal and has already hired professional talent to construct his campaign. Also in the race is former Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris, state Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow), Baptist pastor Danny Stockstill, and attorney Andy Coleman. No one has yet announced for the Democratic nomination.

The 1st District is safely Republican and will likely remain that way in 2018. No Democrat has even reached 37 percent of the vote here during the last three presidential elections. Once the Bridenstine nomination is decided and the election calendar set, we will likely see more individuals from both parties become candidates.

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